Survive; the most natural of human behaviors. It is something we all strive for during our existence and for most of us it is just something that is taken for granted. However, for the people of Leningrad during the 900 days German occupation in the Second World War survival was something they had to fight for, every single day. Leningrad is a war movie of the most sensitive kind, the focus here is the civilian population and the effects of war. Mira Sorvino (Kate) is strong as the forgotten English journalist captured in the besieged city. Olga Sutulovas (Nina) performance is not completely consistent but when it reaches its peak she is really good. The film is more or less a drama about the people in Leningrad and a forgotten English journalist that have to survive in a hostile world.
The movie itself starts of by showing the war that is the backdrop of the occupation, any able body man that is fit enough to fight is pulled forward to the frontline and attacking the Germans head on, with only rifles and the will to resist. We also get the first glimpse of Nina, the Russian police officer that is to play an important role in the story. She shows immediately that she is not to be talked down. She demands, by gunpoint, that the Russian forces must attack forward and protect the city of Leningrad. She is even willing to shot anyone that would even try to retreat. Another character that is being presented is Kate who is an English reporter, one of the few that is about to be sent to the besieged city of Leningrad to get a first-hand report. During this visit her own convoy is destroyed by German fighter planes and she is presumed dead and left in Leningrad when the last plane flies out of the city. This is the actual starting point for the story in itself as it is mainly about this reporter’s life in Leningrad. During her stay at the city she is protected by Nina that tries to help her the best she can, they both experience starvation, fear and the harsh life that World War 2 offers. Kate is helped by both Nina and several other people in Ninas house, her mother, a famous opera singer, and a small family of a mother and her two children. During the course of the movie loss is a common part of the lives of the people. The commentator, the one that gives the news to the people of Leningrad, dies during the second act. Ninas mother dies, the small families mother also dies. Death is all around and after each loss there is a new level of suffering for the people left alive and for Kate.
The writing for this movie is done with a particular feeling in mind, or state of emotion if you will. That is the concept of struggle and the constant feeling of despair, but also the small glimpse of hope that is present. The most of these scenes are performed by emotional expressions. One particular scene in the middle of the second act is when Kate and Nina have a moment for themselves and talks about the life outside the war. Nina then says, facing Kate, “The blockade will never end”. This is a straight up answer that the citizens are in a total despair. Yet the audience will see Nina as she is trying each day to get by and do her duty to uphold the law. She is trying to maintain the small glimpse of hope that can be achieved. The writing is good in the movie, but it is not the dialogue per se but the emotional actions each character do to strengthen their personalities to the context they are in.
One aspect that is kind of off-putting on the writing department is the subplot with the German General (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his most ethical nephew (Alexander Beyer). The nephew considers the idea of attacking civilians to be barbaric and would not rather be a part of it, yet the General demand him to follow orders. This is to give the viewer a glimpse of the conflict from the German side and with the help of the nephew, show that not all Germans are murderous. The idea is good but it is not delivered in a good way, making it more or less filler to the main plot, this as it has nothing to do with the main story at all.
The director, that is the same as the writer, had his own personal vision in potraying this particular conflict, and it shows. Whenever he wants an event or action to be given to the audience he emphasizes it with the use of different saturations and filters for the camera, also altering and muffing the sound effects and voices. This is first shown in the beginning of the movie when the Russians attack the German lines. The music gives the notation of hope and success as the German forces retreat, however several tanks and reinforcements approaches out from the tree-line. When this happens the sound is softened and muffed down, close-ups on the lieutenant that has rushed forward. He looks upon how the Germans advance and how soldiers are crushed beneath the tracks of tanks. In the background there is a consistent heartbeat as different shots portray the crushing German forces. This gives the scene much more impact in terms of the significant and what is about to happen. Similar scenes are in the movie; however some of these do take a viewer out from the experience, such as utilizing close-ups and muffing of the sounds will at some times be just strange. One bad example is when Kate is out to buy food, at the so called black market, and several close-ups on merchants and food and a certain sound (jingle one would say) makes it just a chore to sit through.
When the credits starts to roll I am left with a feeling of somewhat understanding the conflict and what these people were going through. I am left with an uneasy feeling that has been growing through the movie. Yet there are several parts of the movie where the writers, and directors personal preferences shines through too much, pushing me out from the experience as a whole. But overall; it is a good movie with a new take on World War 2 in movies and an exciting and thrilling piece of film. It has its negative spots with the direction and some of the writing but it is at least worth seeing if one is interested in the World War 2 era. For everyone else it might be worth a look but keep in mind that the personal style of the movie may throw you off just a bit.